Synopsis – A blind woman’s relationship with her husband changes when she regains her sight and discovers disturbing details about themselves.
My Take – For decades, the cinema has been obsessed with showing the indistinct side of a marriage. There’s something about sensual and dark side of the union that writers and directors clamor up to give a closer look at, and with the major critical and commercial success of director David Fincher‘s Gone Girl, clearly there is a market for the genre. Here, director Marc Forster, who has crafted a career out of making out of the box kind of films such as Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, World War Z, among others, has also aimed to divulge us into a new kind of suspenseful relationship drama, with two known faces, Blake Lively and Jason Clarke, leading the helm. What initially surprised me that despite premiering at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, this film which carries a production budget of $30M, ended up earning just $1M in its limited theatrical run in the U.S. Usually these numbers indicate a huge bomb caused by universal dislike from the critics and the general audience, but judging by the talent involved, I walked into this film curious about its outcome. Having seen it, I can see why, as this is a strange film which despite a good performance from Blake Lively and some creative visuals, has a story that never finds a sure stable footing, and just moves uncomfortably between a set of unfocused series of events that are quite loosely connected. What could have been a moral fable supportive of every man and woman engaged in living together turned out to be yet another man-hating film preaching that women better be girls that fend for themselves, and with characters that possess very few redeeming qualities, the film just ends up being a super depressing twisted dull story that falters at every act.
The story follows Gina (Blake Lively), a woman who was visually impaired during a childhood accident that killed both her parents. Now living in Bangkok with her doting and attentive James (Jason Clarke) with whom she has been trying to start a family. While he’s off at work, she spends her time mostly padding about in their luxurious apartment, swimming at the local pool, or giving guitar lessons to her next door neighbor’s child. However, when her doctor (Danny Huston) informs her that a spot has opened up for an experimental procedure that could restore sight in her right eye, she and James are thrilled at the prospect. As the operation succeeds, the first sign that the couple’s dynamic is about to change is when she sees James’ face for the first time, remarking that he looks different from what she pictured, an initially innocuous remark that shows first signs of how the couple’s rosy relationship is soon going to deteriorate. This film has an interesting idea from a directing perspective, with a chance to portray the different senses on screen, or the absence of certain senses, and I can certainly see why someone like director Marc Forster could find himself getting attracted to such a project. The film is initially interesting to watch in a narrative sense and shows its potential to be a great thriller, but there are just so many things that go wrong here. Running at 109 minutes, the film gets draggy in setting up its premise and showing Gina navigating her new life. Director Forster takes his time building up the tension in Gina and James’ relationship – with James’ many slight aggressions and Gina’s hints at disappointment at her suddenly-clear reality, but when moments of drama finally arrive, they lack the originality, or the creative punch that comes with a well thought-out, well executed plot point, to really surprise and satisfy viewers. There’s hardly any momentum building as the story progresses, which explain the lack of tension, I felt when the film reached its supposed climax. Another problem here is the pacing, there’s just no build up of suspense for the majority of the film, and so the final sequence of events happen so quickly so as to almost feel rushed. In chronicling the shifting emotional dynamic between Gina and James, director Forster and co-writer Sean Conway forego such standard storytelling devices as exposition and establishing shots in favor of a series of quick vignettes, thereby forcing us in the audience to pick up on crucial narrative and character details on the fly. Such an approach allows the plot — which tracks the tensions that develop between the two after Gina undergoes a successful operation that restores most of her sight — to develop in a way that feels as if it’s arising organically from real life. As discomfortingly familiar as it is to see an older, less charismatic male performer paired with a younger, more vibrant one, the film does address this gap through the insecurities James feels as his wife explores the newly expanded boundaries of her world. Unfortunately, it does this by prodding Clarke into a grumpiness that acts as a limiter for the film’s ambitions. The other characters, like Gina’s sister Carla (Ahna O’Reilly) and her button-pushing husband Ramon (Miquel Fernández), become plot points on a confused map of sexual dysfunction. The film has a lot of sex, and tries to engage with how, with restored sight, Gina becomes alternately fascinated and uncomfortable with the feeling of being watched—or being watched while remaining hidden, as in a scene where she blindfolds her husband as she videos their attempted tryst. As much as I like Blake Lively, one feels disconnected and unsympathetic for the main female character, and almost for both of these total depressing freaks.
Her husband definitely prefers her submissive and dependent, and things crumble when she’s suddenly strutting her hot stuff all by her lonesome. But I can’t quite feel a lot of empathy such a vain and selfish character. There’s nobody here to root for, not even the dead bird stuffed mysteriously down a glass bottle in the refrigerator. I mean I know it was really bad for him to change the eye drops, so sure I can accept him as the bad guy; he got it coming to him in the end. But as for the wife let’s just put it this way, when she gets her vision back she becomes quite rude towards her husband, self centered, sleeps with another guy, then lies about it and even has a baby which she clearly tries to pass off as the husband’s, and then pretends that she’s still blind when she can actually see, and by the end after he kills himself and she has the baby it’s like it was supposedly a good turn of events, like a sort of redemption. When Gina and James’s contentious behavior turns full-on sociopathic, the narrative offers little in terms of logic or motivation to justify the excessive heightening of their combative mentalities. While the film could have offered an intriguing viewpoint from which to examine the dissolution of a marriage, the increasingly absurd actions of its characters seem calibrated only to direct the plot toward a relatively rote, predictable finale. Blake‘s character could have gone in so many directions instead of this dark road alienating her husband. Director Forster and co-screenwriter Sean Conway gloss over the complexities wrought by their scenario and instead spackle on more and more ludicrous elements, the most head-scratching of which finds Ramon coated in red paint and wearing a dress and a subsequent sequence which takes place in a Spanish sex club. By the time the film reaches its final stretch, the whole affair is weighed down with such incoherence that even James’ act of desperation to hold on to his wife becomes ridiculous rather than chilling. At least the film looks stunning right. Cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser creatively conveys Gina’s way of seeing the world – images are rendered as if via a watery kaleidoscope – and also offers breathtaking images such as an upside down underwater shot that has Gina tiptoeing like a ballerina along the surface of a swimming pool. The foggy, ever changing, and almost psychedelic visuals of her vision are quite nice to look at. Without a doubt, Blake Lively is clearly the star of this film, with an intriguing dual role of being one girl before and quite the new one after regaining her sight. Last seen in director Woody Allen‘s drama Cafe Society and the unexpected hit, The Shallows, here, Lively once again proves she is more than a pretty face, as she shows restraint and depth as one who is living in the shadows. It’s always interesting to see her reactions to situations and how subtly Lively can express them. There’s some mysterious, child-like presence in her, which only adds to the intrigue, and becomes the film’s strongest attraction. Jason Clarke’s performance, meanwhile, hinges on the question of whether James will react to these potential changes with testiness or full-blown irritation. For some reason Clarke never seems as menacing as he is supposed to be, and also lacks the intensity he has shown in previous films. In smaller roles, Ahna O’Reilly, Yvonne Strahovski, Miquel Fernández, Wes Chatham and Danny Huston are wasted. On the whole, ‘All I See Is You‘ is an underwhelming psychological thriller which despite an interesting concept falters due to its weak story and unimpressive experimental direction.
Directed – Marc Forster
Rated – R
Run Time – 109 minutes